A study entitled Fulfilling the promise: do MOOCs reach the educationally underserved? found that Duke’s 13 MOOCs on the Coursera platform provide students with access to content they might not encounter on their formal course of study, thus complementing existing courses.
The study analysed qualitative data from pre-course surveys issued to all of the MOOCs’ 9,000 enrolees in the autumn 2014 semester to identify the core demographics taking the courses and deepen understanding of their motivations for study.
“Coursera classes were supplementing or enhancing their education that they were getting from other either K-12 or higher education formal courses”
“The theme that was most pronounced was that Coursera classes were supplementing or enhancing their education that they were getting from other either K-12 or higher education formal courses,” commented lead researcher Lorrie Schmid.
The 13 MOOCs were particularly popular among non-traditional student groups. The study identifies three groups that make up the core demographic of the courses: under-18s, over-65s and people without access to higher education.
Although some students felt that limited mobility and finances dictated that MOOCs were their only option for continuing study, many gave other reasons as their primary motivation for pursuing a course.
Many of the enrolees under the age of 18 reported taking MOOCs to learn about topics not taught at their school and to explore different subjects, offering them insight into options for their future academic or career paths.
Meanwhile, those over 65 said their aim was to pursue lifelong learning and keep their minds active. Some adults in this category also said they would like to mentor younger students in their professional field.
The study says that, contrary to what was envisioned when MOOCs first began being developed, “MOOC students are not underserved in terms of educational opportunities; the typical MOOC learner already has a college degree”.
However, it contends that “this does not mean that MOOCs are failing to fulfil the promise of democratisation”.
“The idea was trying to get a better handle on individuals who were underserved, because so much of the popular press has focused on highly-educated, white (for the most part), upper middle class folks taking Coursera courses,” Schmid said.